Basics to Build Your Racial Injustices PD

Across our personal conversations, social media feeds, and staff meetings, 2020 has loomed large. Between COVID, quarantining, and racial injustices, many days over the last year seemed relentless. For me, with this additional anxiety, I want to find places in my life that I can do something; how can I make this world I am living in slightly better?

Since George Floyd’s death, I have implemented  a few strategies to focus on my personal and professional development (PD) as it relates to better understanding racial injustices, systemic racism, equity, and social justice. Furthermore, I have asked myself, how does this PD work extend beyond just being a Student Affairs professional, specifically a Parent & Family Engagement professional?

It’s important that I mention,  none of my suggestions are original. These may be consistent with the professional goals you’ve created in the past. What makes this different for me is that my focus has centered on the Black and African American experience. 

1 - Listen: As a white woman, I try my best to follow good practice as it relates to diversity, equity, and inclusion work. During this time, especially, we need to actively listen to what our students and families are saying. At my institution, a group of students created an Instagram account where fellow students can directly message the account, and then the moderator shares the student's experiences anonymously. Many of the posts share, in detail, how our Black students are being othered. While on my personal Instagram account, I go out of my way to be mindful of these posts and pause, focus my attention, and openly listen to that student. 

Additionally, at my institution, some of our Black student organizations have hosted virtual forums, sit-ins, and other events. I have deliberately made those events a priority on my calendar. When I attend, I am strictly listening. While I am viewing these events, I am also considering how the Parent & Family Engagement work that I do can be done differently. I ask myself, how can I take what these students are sharing, and how can it inform my work for supporting and engaging the families of our students of color? 

I am also listening to my Black colleagues. When they share, I am focusing on their words. I am not thinking about how I need to prove something to them or that I have an idea, too. I am also being conscientious about the additional burden they are taking on. When I can, I am checking in on them. I want them to know I care about them and value their experiences. 

2 - Action: On my campus, it feels like there is momentum. As I work at a historically White institution with a history of racism. I hope the work we are currently doing is not in vain. I ask myself, what committees can I join, and how can I ensure that this work is focusing on systemic change? How can I use my privilege as a White person to center the Black experience? How am I bringing the Parent & Family Engagement work into this group? 

In addition to the work that’s being done at your institution, are there ways to get involved in your community? You could consider becoming a member of your local NAACP, attending city meetings, educating yourself around local issues of racism in your community, etc.  

3 - Programs: As you look at Parent & Family Engagement at your institution, how many programs specifically support your Black families? What about your Family Weekend? Or Family Orientation? A few years ago, I sat down with my Center for Black Culture colleagues and discussed how we can collaborate to build programs. We ended up hosting an open house during Family Weekend. In addition, we hosted a few other affinity-based programs. These programs have opportunities for growth, but I am glad we offered them. What is your institution doing? What partnerships on campus can you develop? Can you connect with Black students and ask them what sort of programs their families want to see on Family Weekend or during Orientation?

4 - Data: Many of us survey our families; both on a large scale and small. Sometimes, this is after Family Weekend, for instance, or through an all-family survey. However, I ask, do you have demographic questions? If so, do you ask about race/ethnicity? If you do, do you review the responses from your Black and African American families? Are their responses similar to the White or majority families? I encourage you to review the data and better understand the Black families’ experience. Additionally, are you able to do significance testing for these segmentations? Then, once you have analyzed the data, what can you do differently to better support our Black students and families? We can use data to better understand the work we do. Let’s do it! 

As I shared at the top, much of what I’ve included here is not earth-shattering. For me, it’s about being intentional and thoughtful as a Student Affairs and Parent & Family Engagement professional. I try to be mindful to consider my Parent & Family Engagement work from a Black family experience through active listening, actions of attending programs, rethinking programs, and analyzing data through a racial lens. As Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” As it relates to racial injustices, we know better. How can I make Parent & Family Engagement better for Black families? 


Meagan Davidson is the Assistant Dean of Students at the University of Delaware. She is also Region 2 Chair for AHEPPP: Family Engagement in Higher Education.  

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